Rant of the Week



David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, has written a book about character.  He essentially defines character as a strong connection to something outside of yourself.  He means "character" in a positive sense-- not in the sense of "what a character!".  And not in the sense of "he is a deeply flawed character".  He means, "this man has character".  He has principles.  He has strength and conviction.  His life means something.

It really is an odd criteria, but it plays well with conservative tropes about duty and respect for authority and service.  It honors soldiers who come back from war, having done their "duty", and having killed for the state, or the state's vested interests, without ever questioning the justice or rationality of its cause.  It plays well with religion: character is obedience, to that something outside of yourself, God, or the church itself. 

And so, among the failures of Bill Clinton, we often hear conservatives insist that his was a failure of "character".  He was dishonest as a politician.  He cheated on his wife.  He was such a character!

But what if character is the opposite?  What if it is precisely the man who refuses to obey authority unquestioningly, because he doesn't have that connection with that outside thing that he thinks is smarter or more respectable or more honorable than his own conscience?   What if a man with character is more like Thomas More, not because he believed in something outside of himself-- the Roman Catholic Church and it's corrupt hiearchy-- but that he might be right and everyone else, who had all sworn allegiance to King Henry VIII as the new head of the church, was wrong? 

That's why it's a pity to see Rand Paul trying to go mainstream.  I thought he had character, with his odd positions on the drug laws, the invasion of Iraq, and tax breaks for corporations.